I apologize if this seems an esoteric topic, but it is one that seems to be a matter of seriously contentious dispute, as well as one that Iis relevant to various controversies and issues in the Middle East now. It is triggered by the biggest argument I have ever had with Juan Cole, whom I usually agree with, and indeed I agree with the vast majority of his recent post advising Saudi Arabia on how they can make themselves look better to the rest of the world, which includes such obvious items as allowing women to drive (the last of 7).
My disagreement with him was over a line just dropped incidentally that he would later defend ardently, that the official Saudi theology/ideology of “Wahhabism” is “not Sunni.” I challenged this, pointing out that 1) the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) officially uses as its official Shari’a law code the Hanbali code, one of the four Sunni Shari’a codes, and 2) that KSA is currently claiming to lead a global Sunni movement against the global Shia movement, even if this may well boil down simply to a local power struggle between KSA and Iran. I think Juan agrees with those two points, and also that Wahhabism and Salafism are not identical, in contrast to claims by many ignorant commentators.
I now accept that Juan is right about certain matters I differed with him about. The founder of Wahhabism, Muhammed ibn Abdel-Wahhab, who formed an alliance in 1744 with the founder of the Saudi dynasty, Muhammed ibn Sa’ud, did not make as his primal demand that the very strict Hanbali code be adopted by the Saudi family as part of their alliance. He had his own idiosyncratic theology that mostly attacked local practices such as worship of saints and their shrines. And he denounced the existing Sunnis and all other Muslims who did not follow his version of Islam to the point that they could be killed, although it seems that his worst wrath was against Shia and Sufis. But his stance led and justified the view by many that his followers were not proper Sunnis, even though later they would adopt the proper, if extreme, Hanbali Shari’a code, although that would be following ibn Hanbal’s follower, ibn Tamiyyah more specifically when they did so by a century or so ago. It was also the case that from the beginning Abdel-Wahhab’s views were close to those of advocates of the Hanbali code, who included members of his family, including his influential grandfather.
Before we proceed to the relationship with Salafism, I recognize that part of the problem here more broadly is that the Saudis do not like being called “Wahhabi.” It was a term first applied by their enemies in the past, the Ottomans, and taken up from them by the British, who established it in the general literature and discussion. Although most Wahhabis dislike the term, reportedly especially the new king of KSA, Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman al Sa’ud, it has been also reportedly accepted by some scholars within that tradition. Nevertheless it must be recognized that what these Saudi Wahhabis prefer to be called is “Muwahuddin,” which is usually translated into English as “Unitarian.” Big surprise, nobody besides themselves or people super kissing their behinds calls them that. OTOH, they are not averse to being labeled “Salafi,” which gets us to the core of this.
Before proceeding further I must note that all of this is highly controversial with many scholars, not to mention theologians and ideological propagandists spouting many lines on all this. But as near as I can tell Salafism (“Salaf” referring to the early period of Islam, during its first three or four caliphs) originated in Egypt in the mid-19th century at the world’s second oldest university, al-Azhar in Cairo, with such figures as Jamal al-din al-Afghani and Muhammed Abduh. Following what my wife, Marina, and I have labeled a “new traditionalist” approach, they tried to reconcile both a return to the roots of Islam, the “Salaf,” with modernism and science given the fall of Egypt under British control. In the early 20th century their followers would become more attuned to a more traditionalist view against such currents as socialism, with the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) in the 1920s by al Banna with more radical support form al Qutb.
In the 1950s and 60s Nasser would suppress their followers, and in 1962 King Faisal in Saudi Arabia invited many of them into KSA as he founded the Muslim League. Many moved there, becoming high school and university teachers. This would lead to a partial convergence of the traditions, with some calling what King Faisal advocated “pan-Islamic Salafism.” This would be spread globally by Faisal as he funded madrassas around the world, many of them staffed by Egyptian Salafis. Eventually some of the Egyptian Salafis would split from the Muslim Brotherhood there to pursue a violent quest for their views, the Qutbist strand, with some of these becoming prominent in al Qaeda, such as its current leader, al Zuwahiri, formerly second in command after Osama bin Laden.
Wahhabism has its own historical origin prior to that of Salafism, nevertheless many now argue that either they are identical or that Wahhabism is a sup-part of Salafism, a possibly defensible position. Again, the Saudis themselves reject being called Wahhabi, prefer to be called Muwahuddi, and accept being called Salafi. Some claim they are not Sunnis, but even if ab-del-Wahhab did not initially accept the Hanbali code, they do now, and it is Sunni. I can understand that many Sunnis may not wish to be associated with them, but then many Christians do not wish to be associated with the KKK or the Inquisition. Tough.
I could go on as there is a lot more to this, but I think this will do for now. Good night.
Addendum: Oh yes. The violent extremist Sunni groups Daesh/ISIL and al Qaeda all claim to be Salafi, and some observers also claim that they are Wahhabi as well, although that remains not universally accepted. Hopefully I have helped clarify somewhat why that is the case.
Thank you for this. There is far too little information about Islam easily available. Kind of similar to the lack of information about Communism when I was a high school student, although not nearly as extreme. I may be speaking from ignorance with this, but I understood that the main sticking point for denying the title Wahhabist to Daesh is their refusal to declare allegiance/devotion to the King of Saudi Arabia. It’s hard to keep track, since apparently KSA was a major funder of Daesh and, of course, Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda seems to be openly allied with and supported by KSA in Yemen, which is pointedly ignored by the neoconservatives.
I fixed your link “post” in the text of your Post.
Take a pinch of Wahabbi, a pinch of Salafi and you get a new movement. They can be one, neither, or a combo of the two, even add other entities to fit their needs at the time. If I remember correctly the al Saud family originally came fom Yemen. As did the bin Laden family.
The Wahabbi and the Saud family made a deal where the Wahabbi got control of the kingdoms morals, religion, education……..The al Saud clan got the throne, the recognition, and the golden throne. Oil became their blessing and their curse. Daesh is financed by KSA, other GCC, etal…
Just ask Prince (Bush) Bandar. Many in the west and Israel tolerate and support Daesh if it means regime change in Syria. The Sunni/Shia schism is supported and promoted by the West (divide and conquer).
There will be major blowback for this when Moslems pick a pan-Islam over the west. The enemy of my enemy, is my enemy. Think KSA/Iran/US. what a crazy world. Lol
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Interesting theses! The enigmas that surround the royal kerfuffles in the mid East. Sort out Irish Catholics and Scots-Irish protestants easier.
Saudi involvement in Yemen is “interesting” and not well covered, sort of like Union generals’ genocide of the Plains Indians after forcibly ending states’ rights supposedly over slavery.
In the 60’s when the royals were ousted the Saudis sided with the hill tribes who supported the Imirs against Nasserite secularists. This time the hill tribes include the Shi’a version of the tribes are against the urban who are aligned with Saud and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Saudis are effetely bombing the tribes same as Nasser in the 60’s.
While US drones and an MV-22 crash attacking the Saudi’s folks in AQAP.
Looks like KSA funding of Daesh and al Qaeda not from royal family, or at least senior ruling members of that family, which has now gotten quite large. I think there may now be well over 100 people there bearing the title “Emir,” or “Prince.”
The Saudi royal family has no origin in Yemen. They are out of central Saudi Arabia, central Nejd, from Diriyah in the mid-1700s, now a partially ruined suburb of the current capital, Riyadh.
In general agreement. The relationship between KSA and Yemen extremely complicated. A non-trivial detail is that the border between the two has never been fully drawn or established, and unlike all other foreigners, Yemenis can freely enter and leave without getting visas.
I apologize for having to approve your comments all the time.
Sounds pretty much like most religion’s and gov’ts that rule under or with the permission those religious leaders everywhere So in that sense the ME and Saudi’s and their relationships to and among one another aren’t any different than anyplace else on the globe.
The differences described change in details or interpretations…. generally as in everything else primarily only to serve the interests of one group or the other.
I’m reminded of Judaism splitting off the Jesus followers (which upon his death became more widely known as the early forms of Chritianity).
That was a mish-mash of beliefs until the first conclave when consensus was agreed consolidating the several branches and beliefs, stories, and rules.
But that split into the Eastern and Western versions with Constantine, .
Then the Western version spit off the Northern European version under the auspices of Martin Luther (or so we’ve recorded in history) as Protestantism — the former Western version known as Catholisism. This was done predominantly to decentralized rule of the Western version from Rome and give the Northern European rulers some options of selecting the offshoot version (Protestantism) without loosing public support — still “Christianity”… just a different flavor of it with a more secular ruling system but under the permission of the Protestant Religious leaders.
From there we go into The Church of England, Lutherans, Puritanism (a renegade cult), and Presbyterianism, then Baptists, Methodists, etc. .. far more than I can count… each with their own versions, beliefs, interpretations, and rules of “Christianity” and each supporting and giving their permission for a ruler / gov’t that uses one of these offshoots (e.g. leader of the offshoots)to legitimize their “Christian legitimacy” to govern — secularly or not.
Interestingly though, Trump may not fit that description… but who has (thus far) the strong backing of Christian fundamentalists in the South which oppose abortion and promote racist white supremacy beliefs.
What I didn’t get from Barkley’s explaining of things is just why it is that the Saudi’s don’t like to be called Wahhabi since in fact they rule under the support and legitimacy of Wahhabi’s leaders, not to mention Wahhabi ruler’s laws.
Reportedly Saudis do not like being called “Wahhabis” because it was enemies (the Ottomans) who first called them that, combining the label with a critical description of their extreme views, which indeed include destroying tombs and today not letting women drive, the only nation in the world that does that. They also used to oppose music, the playing of it, any music. Also, emphasizing Wahhab made them look like all those other Muslims who were into worshipping saints, which was something they opposed, based on the teachings of Abdel-Wahhab.
Traditionally they claimed to simply be “Muslims,” although they also claimed to be the only people who really were true Muslims, with the Ottomans a bunch of fakes and heretics. To the extent they were to be called anything other than just “Muslims,” they preferred the label their emphasis on absolute unity of theology and practice, religion and society, hence “Unitarians,” or “Muwahuddin” in Arabic, although almost nobody calls them that besides themselves.
I understood that from your original post but it makes no sense … when your enemy points out your cherished foundations as being f.o.s. or whatever, you don’t change to another horse name or affiliation or foundations to give your enemy credibility… especially in the case where the entire foundation and clerical leadership underpins your rule.
Does your “reportedly” have more than one source? or is this just some historian’s or some other “experts” supposition / wag?. You used the caveat “reportedly” twice in your post in regard to what Saudi’s don’t want to be called … including in the present:
“Although most Wahhabis dislike the term, reportedly especially the new king of KSA, Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman al Sa’ud….”
Also is there any major Saudi King who wasn’t immediately deposed that has publically made such a statement ..”we don’t like being called Wahhabi’s” ?
Who or what source does “reportedly” refer to?
Here’s what I have found so far on the issue.
“A leading member of the Saudi royal family has come out in defence of the religious teachings upon which Saudi Arabia was formed, dismissing accusations that they are distant from the essence of Islam. Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, the governor of the Saudi capital Riyadh, told reporters on Monday that the Islamic structure of the Gulf kingdom, as laid out more than 250 years ago by the Sunni scholar Mohammed bin Abdul Wahab, reflected “pure Islam”.”
The article than goes on to say
“The prince dismissed the label “Wahabism”, often used to describe Saudi Arabia’s austere religious practices, saying there was nothing to differentiate Abdul Wahab’s teachings from those of the Sharia. “Enemies of the sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Wahab labelled his teaching as Wahabism, a doctrine that doesn’t exist here,” Prince Salman was quoted as saying by the daily Okaz newspaper. “I dare any one to bring a single alphabetical letter from the Sheikh’s books that goes against the book of Allah … and the teachings of his prophet, Mohammed.”
https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/there-is-no-such-thing-as-wahabism-saudi-prince-says-1.552348 March 18, 2010
This article is the apparent source of the statement that Saudi’s don’t like to be called Wahhabi’s. What it says actually says though is that they don’t like the term ” Wahhabism’ because it was used derogatively as being an non-Islamic belief by Saudi’s enemies.
As is clear as it can possibly be, the royal family at least espouses and are clearly supporting and favor being followers of the Wahabi’s … followers of the teachings of Wahhabi!.
The other reference I could find is found in Wiki referring to author Robert Lacy’s 1981 book, “the Kingdom” where wiki quotes from it saying:
“”the Wahhabis have always disliked the name customarily given to them” and preferred to be called Muwahhidun (Unitarians).[”
Notably however there’s no reference to his describing “why: besides he fact that he uses the term “always”.. which I can find no other evidence of being the case.
The source of the use of the term Wahhabism is from a Saudi writer… though his source nor he himself doesn’t seem to actually beable to be found in any thing I’ve googled looking for his works or references..
“It was the Ottomans who first labelled Abdul Wahab’s school of Islam in Saudi Arabia as Wahabism, according to the Saudi writer Abdul Aziz Qassim.” and ” ….who also hosts religious television shows on Islamic channels.”
Another reference cited in wiki is that a NYT journalist wrote in 2002:
“Saudis “abhor” the term Wahhabism, “feeling it sets them apart and contradicts the notion that Islam is a monolithic faith.”
BUT in that article the reporter doesn’t reference where the statememt made comes from at all or any reference to his sources. Atl least it’s consistent with the reference n the 2010 artcle cited above that it’s the term Wahhabism and not Wahabbi’s the Saudi’s take issue with.
The only other reference I’ve found so far related to the writer Abdul Aziz Qassim is in this NYT article in 2016, which appears to lift the information from the above article from 2010 in reference to the writer directly out of that article.
” Abdul Aziz Qassim, a writer who until recently hosted a show that explored religious approaches to social issues…..”
He isn’t listed as an author in any references on any Google searches I’ve done either. So this sounds more like hand-me-down hear-say with no actual references at all.. not even to the writers credentials or what he’s written or in what journals or papers or anything.
Apparently the writer exists but his credentials are highly dubious and not worth using to base anything credible upon.
So the only credible source comes from the quote by a Saudi Royal in 2010 ni which it is not Wahabbi or his teachings that Saodi’s object to believing in or supporting, but only the term “Wahabbism” . .which is ore or less just like saying the Puritans didn’t like being referred to as Puritans either.
You have written here extensively, with very little of it anything I disagree with. I think that somehow you have misinterpreted some things I have said, and I understand that you have sort of a thing of trying to find things wrong that I have said, with you making a huge effort here that amounts to very little. Let me try to respoind.
One loose end indeed is my “reportedly” regarding “current scholars” who might be Wahhabist and accept the term. I got that form Juan Cole in his debate with me on his site. I do not know who they are, although I imagine he has somebody in mind. Anyway, that explains that “reportedly.” The other “reportedly” is just verbiage; I think that one is simply a fact, but being vaguely cautious.
I note that the “Prince Salman bin Abdbul Aziz” you quote from 2010 is the current king. I presume you realized that.
Let us be clear. They have always been very proud of following the ideas of Mohammed ibn Abdul-Wahhab, but they have always all of them disliked being identified by his name as either “Wahhabi” or “Wahhabist.” Most definitely no Saudi king has ever been overthrown for disliking any variation on that label. It was given to them by enemies, and they have never accepted it, even as they praise his work. As then Prince Salman put it, they think that his work is identical with “every word in the Sharia” and hence with Islam itself in its implicitly pure form. That has been the problem, when they go around claiming that they have the right version of Islam and everybody else has a wrong version, although they have gotten less pushy about that lately.
Oh, for the record, the only Saudi king to be deposed since 1902 has been the immediate successor of Abdulaziz, his son Sa’ud. He was booted and replaced after several years by the revered Faisal for his out of control corruption, not for any theological dispute.
Sa’ud bin Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman al Sa’ud also got dumped for general incompetence as well as his out of control corruption. When he succeeded Abdulaziz in 1953 he was not the oldest of the 43 sons living at the time. That was Mohammed. But he was a private businessman not interested in governing, and rumors also had it that he drank too much. Sa’ud was next in line, but he badly disappointed his brothers.
His successor, Faisal, who was mother was an al-Shekh, the family descended from Mohammed ibn Abdul-Wahhab, was widely viewed as the smartest and most competent and least corrupt of all the 43 sons, having represented his father at the age of 16 at the Versailles treaty conference in 1919 and long served as his foreign minister. He actually took effective power in 1960, with Sa’ud still officially king, but finally the brothers decided to dispense with that charade and removed Sa’ud in 1964, who lived very well on his ill-gotten gains (“air conditioned palaces in the desert”) until his death in 1969. It was Failsal who in 1962 invited in the Egyptian Salafis.